April 6, 2006

Dead Reckoning

Dead reckoning is defined as "an estimate based on little or no information."

I picked dead reckoning as the metaphor for this blog because I believe the problem of dead reckoning is one of the primary problems with K-12 education.

Most of what passes for K-12 education today simply doesn't work -- and never has. Most of what we think used to work, for the most part only worked with a tiny slice of the student population pie.

For example, phonics is a necesary component of any effective early reading program according to the National reading Panel. Yet, most instructional programs which claim to do phonics don't do a very good job teaching either a) phonics or b) children how to read -- even the programs that teach phonics explicitly and sytematically. Open Court, I'm looking at you.

This is where the problem of dead reeckoning comes in. Let's continue with the Open Court example.

Open Court does a swell job teaching your typical bright middle class kids to read -- the part of the demographic who've always learned how to read well. But a lot of other crappy programs do almost as good a job -- especially when you consider how poorly most schools keep track of student achievement. What schools see is that most programs work with bright middle-class kids.

On the flip side, we have your low-SES and/or not-so-bright kids. No program works well with these kids, not even Open Court for the most part -- especially if it's taught poorly. What schools see is that nothing works well with these kids.

So what do schools do when faced with this lack of evidence with what works with the less bright kids and knowing that most programs work reasonably well with others? They pick what matches their ideological agenda. Find some "authentic literature" program that works reasonably well with the smart students. If it doesn't work with the less bright kids, then they weren't motivated to learn, weren't developmentally ready, or were learning disabled. Done and done.

Which brings us to the dirty little secret of education. We do know what works. But implementing what works requires schools to change pretty much everything they currently are doing. And be accountable for student learning. Plus, it flies in the face of their ideology.

In education dead reckoning runs into ideology head on. Students get squashed in the middle.


Catherine Johnson said...


I used to have this same post on Animals in Translation!


In fact, I think I had 3 of them.

Catherine J.

KDeRosa said...

In the blogger control panel, go to EDIT POSTS and delete the test posts. or replace them with non-test posts just like I did.

Not -a-shoeclerk said...

From your tagline "The primary problem with K-12 education today is the problem of dead reckoning--an estimate based on little or no information...."

Perhaps you should change your "dead reckoning" tagline as what you say is cute but absolutely incorrect.

In the USAF, it is often said that there are only two kinds of people in the world--"pilots" and everyone else AKA "shoeclerks." You appear to be a shoeclerk.

As a professional pilot with FAA Airline Transport Pilot certificates for Multi-engine airplanes and helicopters and a FAA flight instructor certificate with four category/class endorsements, I can tell you that dead reckoning is the process of navigating an aircraft (or other vehicle) from a known point to another location by traveling a predetermined compass course, for a certain amount of time, at a certain speed. Usually the known in the time-speed-distance equation is distance (often airfield to airfield, turnpoint, or an air traffic control fix).

The "compass course" is calculated by taking the "true course" (from a heading protractor and pencil line on an aeronautical chart)+/-a "wind correction angle" (from winds aloft forecasts or reports) which gives you the "true heading." The true heading is adjusted by +/- a certain number of degrees of "magnetic variation" (an adjustment necessitated by the fact that the true North pole and the magnetic North pole differ in location). This calculation gives you the "magnetic heading." The magnetic heading is then corrected +/- the magnetic deviation (systematic bia in the magnetic compass on certain headings caused by magnetic or electromagnetic fields from the equipment in the aircraft-individual for each aircraft). The number of degrees correction for deviation is displayed on a card on the magnetic compass. After applying the correction for deviation, you now have the "compass heading" that you will fly.

Similar calculations/adjustments are made for the effects of temperature, altitude, airspeed compressibility effects, etc., to calculate the "true airspeed." Wind information is used to estimate the cross wind or head or tail wind component. Wind information is used to correct for drift (wind correction angle) and to adjust the true airspeed to an estimated "ground speed."

Prior to GPS, we calculated all this information with a circular slide rule calculator called an E6-B computer. Often we might not always receive reliable navigation information from ground based navigational aids, such as VORs and NDBs. So, we would do this for about any flight over unfamiliar terrain--we never knew when we might lose reception of the ground navaids.

As for your contention that dead reckoning is an estimate based on little or no information...." My IPs (instructor pilots)routinely required that when dead reckoning, I must arrive no more than 1 minute off of my estimated time of arrival. On flights of several hundred miles I often arrived within 30 seconds of my estimate.

Younger pilots I know think that dead reckoning is primitive compared to GPS (it is), but when you lose the signal, at least I have an idea of where I am with a relatively small positional error. Most of the younger pilots I conduct checks on are not near as proficient in pilotage, dead reckoning or other non-GPS forms of navigation. That is, they have grown overdependent on GPS because it is so easy and so accurate.

This rather long-winded post is to say that your statement that ...dead reckoning--an estimate based on little or no information...." is dead wrong. Does the process I described sound like one based on little or no information?

Enjoy the discussions on education reform, but some of you need more knowledge on what constitutes plausible evidence. "Research indicates..." or "research clearly shows..." just doesn't cut it. Try properly citing the actual studies so that interested parties might read the original article to evaluate it's credibility and veracity. Advocacy groups like the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation are not at all neutral and routinely spin things toward their preferred policy solution. Haven't seen anything from their policy shops that comes close to meeting academic social science standards.

KDeRosa said...

Not-a-shoe-clerk, thanks for the comment.

I think it's time for you to update your dictionary. Mine has two common meanings for the term dead-reckoning:

Meaning #1: an estimate based on little or no information

Meaning #2: navigation without the aid of celestial observations.

Since this blog isn't about vehicular navigation, I went with the more general meaning.

And, for the most part I do link to research that I cite and I am well aware of the bias issues you raise. All researchers, not just the ones you don't agree with, have potential biases. Merely saying a source is potentially biased adds nothing to the discussion. Better you should point out the actual flaws in the research.

Generally speaking, about 90% of educational research is scientifically invalid. I try to avoid these sources.

Sometimes I cite the research so regularly, like Project Follow Through, that I sometimes don't always cite it. If you're ever looking for a specfic cite and I haven't provided a link, just drop me a comment or email.